© 2018 The Author(s). We study the timing and spectral properties of the low-magnetic field, transient magnetar SWIFT J1822.3-1606 as it approached quiescence. We coherently phase-connect the observations over a time-span of ~500 d since the discovery of SWIFT J1822.3-1606 following the Swift-Burst Alert Telescope (BAT) trigger on 2011 July 14, and carried out a detailed pulse phase spectroscopy along the outburst decay. We follow the spectral evolution of different pulse phase intervals and find a phase and energy-variable spectral feature, which we interpret as proton cyclotron resonant scattering of soft photon from currents circulating in a strong (≳1014 G) small-scale component of the magnetic field near the neutron star surface, superimposed to the much weaker (~3 × 1013 G) magnetic field. We discuss also the implications of the pulse-resolved spectral analysis for the emission regions on the surface of the cooling magnetar.